Safety Leadership Summit with Todd Conklin

On Friday November 22nd, two groups of Norlanders got together to hear the message from internationally renowned safety guru Todd Conklin.  Based on his extensive experience with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Todd Conklin presented a human performance approach to safety drawing upon recent advancements in the field – primarily from E. Hollnagel, S. Dekker and K. Weick.  He also had the audience in stitches within five minutes; no one knew that a safety seminar could be so entertaining! Dr Conklin brought the house down while still delivering a worthwhile message that speaks to NorLand’s number one value: Everyone Goes home Safe.

Todd’s presentation outlined the history of safety management systems and how they have helped to lower injury rates to an all-time low.  However, he points out that the injury rates in most western jurisdictions have remained flat, which has some theorists asking, “do we need to do something different?”

The conventional approach to safety management is referred to as ‘Safety-I’. In this approach, safety is defined as the absence of injuries. It is measured in injury statistics or claims rates and is achieved through enforcement and compliance. You could call it protective safety, and it makes basic sense to us because it has worked in getting us to where we are today.

This approach to safety has been baked into our regulatory requirements, workers compensation insurance, safety management audit systems, and contract pre-qualification schemes. In this view, workers are seen as a problem to be controlled, and safety becomes largely a bureaucratic accountability.

Dr. Conklin challenges this view.  In his presentation, he gave concrete examples of system resilience where errors may trigger events - just not catastrophic ones.  Safety, he hypothesizes, is not the absence of accidents... Safety is the presence of capacity.

The new view sees the employee not as problem to be fixed, but as problem solvers.  The old methods of blaming workers for having errors is seen as counterproductive and potentially adversely affects performance.  Plus, it doesn’t fix the system!

The session wound up with local safety expert Jeffery Lyth leading the senior group through a discussion on how they felt about the material presented. Despite the seminar being days ago, the event is still being talked about at all levels of the organization.

If you want more information about this session or Dr. Conklin’s work, please contact NorLand’s Safety Manager, Brooks Patterson, at